RuPaul’s Drag Race: Pop! Goes the Queens

Posted on March 20, 2021

No matter the quality of a given season – and the consensus seems to be that this is not one of the better ones, although Drag Race fans say that about literally every season – the show is an extremely well-oiled machine at this point. A fairly basic, sort of shallow challenge about branding; the kind of challenge we might have decried as not having anything to do with the art of drag in much earlier recapping days, can wind up laying bare all of the queens’ strengths and weaknesses at the exact point in the competition when it needs to happen, resulting in an elimination that shakes the queens, probably because the reasons given were pretty inarguable.

But before we get further into the weeds on that “sort of shallow” challenge, attention must be paid once again to a totally shallow mini-challenge.



There. That should tide you over.

We suppose you could take offense at the idea that good-looking men in skimpy costumes must be dumb. Bryce (the redhead) is an aerospace engineer, so we’d have to say this is all to be taken as pretty tongue-in-cheek. Our favorite chapter in our (ahem) book is the one on the Pit Crew and how they represent a century’s worth of development of the gay male beauty ideal, which is at least partially embodied by silent, compliant, barely dressed muscle dudes. There’s a very long tradition of drag and Muscle Marys co-existing on the stage, each offering performative, exaggerated gender tropes at opposite ends of the scale.


Also, Miss Jaida Essence Hall got to come in and lay down some motherly advice. And by “come in,” we mean it in the 2020 sense: Zoom appearance.


And Kandy got to tell a story that’s sadly nearly universal among queer people: her own gay-bashing. Like we said, the show’s just a well-oiled machine at this point, but there’s something to be said about a format that allows it to serve up a little hotness, a little camp, a poignant queer story, and the best in queer mentoring – all in the first half hour.

As for the branding challenge, it should be noted how much it says about Ru and about what Drag Race values in and expects of its queens. Ru broke through a lot of barriers as a drag queen, not least of which was her early endorsement contract for M.A.C. Cosmetics. To her, in order to be a world-class drag queen, you have to have the skills in place to do things like commercials and endorsements and you have to be well-branded yourself in order to get to that level.

As for the results, we didn’t disagree with a thing the judges said, really.

She got way too caught up in her own weirdness and the result was both confusing and a turnoff.


This was cute and mildly amusing, but as with so many things Kandy, the judges over-praised it.


We had the exact same reaction everyone else did: Oh. A big-haired ’50s housewife. How incredibly expected. Funny thing about Tina Burner: she has a consistent visual brand that does not evoke either burning or Tina Turner, which means it’s kind of useless and at odds with the purpose of a visual brand. She thinks that red-yellow-orange thing reads like flames, but it always makes her look like a fast food mascot. A challenge like this is almost tailor-made to push a queen like Tina. Everyone talks about how great she is in the New York scene and we have no doubt that’s true, but her skills and her visuals haven’t translated well to television.


What can we say? This was just flawless; concept, look, jingle and performance. There was no way she wasn’t winning this one and everyone knew it.


Gottmik seemed confused and scattered throughout the challenge and again, we think it tends to expose her weak spots as a drag queen. Her looks are never not fierce as shit and her character work is really solid, but we’re not sure there’s a Gottmik brand outside of that. The concept here was confusing and when you parse it out and get what she’s trying to sell, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with her drag persona. Gottmik’s not delusional about how attractive she is so we’re not sure why she’d push that image.


This may be blasphemy but we’re starting to hit the wall on Olivia Lux and this performance was a pretty good summation of why. After a while, in a competition as fierce as this one gets, “I’m a sunny, happy, sweet sort of queen” is not going to cut it.


The Jan robe is hilariously on point. She did a great job and we were thrilled Ru went for a double win this week. It was totally deserved.




The looks were all over the map this week. Some of these girls should’ve aced this one easily.


Utica probably foremost among them. Girl, you have the freakiest drag of anyone up there – some of the freakiest drag the show’s ever seen – and this is how you respond to a Beast runway?  The judges seemed charmed by how bad Kandy’s look was, which is just another way of saying that the judges love everything she does, even when it’s bad. We’re sorry, but that costume should’ve put her in the bottom. We were pleasantly surprised to see Tina step a little outside her drag box, but that thing is hideous and her makeup is terrible. Symone’s fursona was wildly on point and just made Tina’s look much worse standing next to it.


Gottmik served a great great beat, a fabulous and slightly unexpected wig and what looks like the best beast drag costume money can buy. Olivia’s “Where the Wild Things Are” take was (what else?) cute. That was Rose’s best runway look yet.


We wouldn’t call this the most epic lip sync of all time, but it was certainly an oddly paired face-off. Utica may be a weirdo, but you shouldn’t sleep on this girl when it comes to a lip sync. Tina once again dropped in and out of lip syncing a song, which is another indication to us that her drag just isn’t ready for HD TV. That sort of mugging and lack of precision is fine for the clubs, but this show wants queens with broad skills that can be molded into the kind of drag Ru embodies.


Which is our way of saying we don’t think Tina Burner’s a bad drag queen, but she wasn’t able to become the kind of drag queen Drag Race wants to crown.



Legendary Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life, a New York Times “New and Notable” pick, praised by The Washington Post “because the world needs authenticity in its stories,” and chosen as one of the Best Books of 2020 by NPR is on sale wherever fine books are sold!




[Photo Credit: VH1 via Tom and Lorenzo]

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